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First German Sermon at Old Zion (translated into English)

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  Old Zion in Philadelphia, PA 

4th of December, 2005

 Isaiah 40:1-11/Psalm 85:1-2,8-3/2 Peter 3:8-15a/Mark 1:1-8


A Voice Crying in the Wilderness:

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!


Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer! Amen.


Isaiah speaks for me when a voice commands him, “Preach!” (It says “preach” in German Luther Bible. In English it is “cry”.)  And Isaiah asks, “What shall I preach?”

     That was my question too, “What shall I preach?” (I’m out here on the West Coast and I’m supposed to preach to people out there in Pennsylvania.)

     And God answers, “All flesh is grass. (“Flesh” means “human beings” in Hebrew.) All people are grass and their goodness is like a flower in the field.  Human beings are grass. It withers. The flower wilts. But the Word of God remains forever.”

     That’s why I’ll preach the Word of God here at Old Zion, because even if we pass away, we cleave to the Word, like clusters of grapes to the Vine, and we preach the Good News until we become changed into little words of God and live and remain forever in God’s Word. So for this Advent, we remember that the Word became flesh. The Word became a human being and dwelt among us. We are preparing for the Word-becoming-flesh because it also goes for us. (As Christ became human we too become christs.) Yes, blessed is he that comes in the Name of the Lord!

     In this lesson from Isaiah we have the Good News. “Comfort, comfort, ye my people! Comfort, comfort my people!” And we comfort each other with the Good News about the Lord who is coming to us. But earlier, in the calling of the first Isaiah (in chapter 6) it was very different. There it says, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and Earth are full of your glory!” Here the voice speaks differently. It asks, “Who should I send? Who will be my messenger?”

     And Isaiah says, “Here I am; send me!”

Then he received his shocking assignment: “Go and speak to these people, ‘Hear and do not understand; see but do not comprehend. Harden the hearts of these people’, etc.”

Isaiah asks, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

Answer: “Until the cities lie waste without inhabitants and in the houses there are no people and the fields become a wilderness…. Only a remnant will remain with holy seed.”

Whenever I’ve driven through inner-city areas of our great cities, including Philadelphia, I have often had to think about these words from first Isaiah.

But here in second Isaiah comes the Good News. “Comfort, comfort, ye my people! Speak gently to Jerusalem (should I say, Philadelphia?) Be friendly and preach to her that her punishment is ended because her iniquity is forgiven.”

We are still in a wilderness to be sure, but a deep-seated change has taken place. For it is no longer the wilderness, the wasteland of hardened hearts, but the wilderness in which we prepare the way of the Lord and we begin to open our hearts to the Love of God. And therefore we hear the voice in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Repent! Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” The Baptizer strikes our sin with the sword of his mouth. He requires us to go down into the baptism of repentance in order to be raised up in the forgiveness of sins.

The prophet looks like Elijah of old, the prophet foretold to come at the end of time, and he is dressed exactly like him. His coat is made of camelhair and he wore a leather belt around his waist and what he eats is despicable: grasshoppers and wild honey!

But there is no way to get around him. Our sinfulness makes it an angry encounter. We have to descend down into the cold water, where we believe we will die – but only the sinful old person in us dies, and out of the cold water there arises a new creature with new life, with a heart filled by the word of God; yes, filled with the living Word of God. Now there is a way through the desert into the Good News of the promised life, just like the promised land, flowing with milk and honey.

Christ will also baptize us, but now with the Holy Spirit. For the Baptizer promised us: a King is coming, called the Lamb of God, who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. Therefore in our encounter with Jesus Christ the ungodliness by which we are possessed dies and we become fulfilled with the love of God.

It can’t happen without change. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The prophet speaks of this change like a special road-building project.

Two interpretive pictures are possible that describe this way. One can say that it is a way through the wilderness, like through the Red Sea, but now from Babylon back to Jerusalem; or secondly, one can say, it means a way for a king who is making his triumphant, victorious march through the wide and open gates into the capitol of his city. Both of them require a road-building project, but the prophet wants us to understand this road-building project spiritually.

“Prepare the way of the Lord in the wasteland, in the wilderness. Make straight the pathways of our God. Every valley shall be exalted and all the mountains and hills shall be lowered. The rough shall be made even, and the uneven shall be made plain, because the glory of the Lord is going to be revealed.”

This particular and special road-building project concerns our hearts. The mountains are the arrogant, the high and mighty, the pretentious, the self-righteous. The valleys are the lowly among us. The lowly shall be lifted up and those who exalt themselves shall be lowered: that’s the way of the Lord. The rough, that means, the crude and raw, the insensitive will become gentle, loving, lovable, and empathetic, which means the capacity from the love of God of becoming deeply moved by the suffering of others. With that the way has become completely clear for revealing the glory of the coming Lord Jesus Christ, who comes with the holy encounter that brings repentance and change.

Prepare the way. That means the old is out and the new is at the door: the old, in so far as it is hard of heart; the new, in so far as it is filled with Good News. Hateful conflict imprisons us in the past; love opens the future. The baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins changes us. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, after being brought to the point of exasperation is to have said, “You want the unaltered Augsburg Confession, but you want it with unaltered hearts!” The Word of God changes our hearts. Faith (which is the power of God at work in us) changes us.

The wilderness remains the wilderness, but we have done a 180 degree turn out of the hardness of hearts into the promised land. And in the same way, we look like the same old people, but because of repentance, we do an about-face and enter into the Good News to receive ears that hear. Hello! Eyes that see, and a heart with the capacity to feel the suffering of our neighbors, of the people next to us.

That is what it means to open our hearts to the Word of God. (Luther said, “For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the world!”) So to prepare the way of the Lord means to spread the Good News. The same way that Isaiah showed me what to preach, now he says, “Zion!” as if he were addressing Old Zion of Philadelphia and says, “Zion, you preacher! (“Preacher” in the feminine in German) climb up a high mountain and lift up your voice with strength. Lift it up and do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah,” (as if he were to say, the cities of Pennsylvania, of America or Germany). “Look, this is your God,” Jesus Christ, God’s Word become a Human Being. Repent and overcome the prison-house of the past and receive the promised freedom of the future. “Zion, you preacher” (f.), “lift up your voice with strength.” (Project!) Preach the Word of God! Preach the Good News! Prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.  

Pastor Peter D.S. Krey


Written by peterkrey

July 1, 2006 at 6:39 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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